Engagement Matters

At HWDSB, we want to achieve high levels of engagement among our students, our staff, our school communities, and among our community partners.

We are creating a system plan to engage students and encourage lifelong learning. We are collecting data that will help us listen to the student voice, which allows us to better know our students. By continuing to invest in pathways programming such as experiential learning, Specialist High Skills Major and Programs of Choice, students are connected to programs that promote a sense of belonging, breadth of learning and choice.

We are developing an arts strategy to engage students and increase access to arts-related opportunities such as instrumental music programs, revised curriculum and festivals. This will also build teacher capacity regarding arts instruction. The arts are an important feature of our social justice initiatives, which engage our students for learning about tolerance, equity and peace.

We are developing specific strategies to engage at-risk students by identifying factors that lead to student disengagement. Schools will receive data about their own population so that they can create a local plan to re-engage our students. Boys to Men events, workshops, and our enhanced e-Learning opportunities in grades 7 and 8 also help to keep students engaged in learning.

Research indicates that student achievement improves when parents are involved in their child’s education. To support parent engagement, we are developing a plan with Board-wide and school-level tools that will help parents as they assist with their child’s learning. We are creating a Virtual Parent Library to give parents access to resources and tools online. We are also co-ordinating our Board’s family learning initiatives under the Focus 4 Family initiative.

Throughout our community, we embrace partnerships that enhance what we can offer our students in areas such as the arts, mental health supports, and many other sectors. One of our priorities in this area is the community use of schools, which helps not-for-profit groups meet the needs of our community.

We want all of our staff to have high standards, and we are committed to giving them the support they require. We are implementing an Employee Relations plan rooted in networking, job-embedded professional learning, and leadership development. This is designed to create a culture of collective efficacy, trust and high expectations. We know through research that when these exist within a school, student achievement improves.

Student Leadership and Student Voice

Student engagement is essential to all students achieving their full potential. At HWDSB, we are helping students develop a shared purpose and identity so they can become lifelong learners and contributing citizens in a diverse world.

In 2009-10, our Student Engagement Committee aligned system initiatives – such as Me to We, MLK Day, the Social Justice Fair and Student Leadership – with the student achievement agenda.

We created a system plan that directly linked system initiatives to our schools and classrooms, to promote a positive school culture as well as to foster high expectations for classroom learning. Our goal is to create a unified school culture built around excellence and ethics, and to promote continuous self-development in support of student achievement.

Related to this, our new Program Plan will provide increased opportunities for students to access school and system programs and activities, including co-op and experiential learning, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) and Programs of Choice.

These program pathways and activities will provide students with a sense of belonging, a variety of learning opportunities, choice, differentiated instruction to meet their individual abilities, interests and strengths, as well as 21st-century fluency skills. It will help all students in their development as lifelong learners as they move toward their destination of choice.

Character Networks

Among our accomplishments in improving student learning and achievement through special education programs and services was the work we did on Elementary Character Networks, Pathways and Centre Programs.

These help us to improve the educational outcomes for students with social/emotional challenges through:

  • Restorative justice
  • Proactive social skill instruction
  • Caring relationships
  • Parental engagement
  • Staff capacity building
  • Community connections

These interventions have helped our students improve their attendance as well as their learning skills.

Ministry Recognizes Initiatives

Meet Our SHSM Students

Early Leavers


Welcome to Kindergarten

Change can be stressful, for parents and students alike. This is why we are easing the transition into high school as well as kindergarten. Increasing parent engagement is one great way to make parents, and students, comfortable about transitions.

For example, in 2009-10 we collaborated with the Learning Partnership to pilot their Welcome to Kindergarten orientation in five elementary schools. Parents and caregivers attended Welcome to Kindergarten orientations at their neighbourhood schools.

Once there, parents received the early learning resources in the Welcome to Kindergarten bag; they also learned strategies for using the resources at home. The visit also let families connect with kindergarten teachers, school resource personnel and staff at community agencies.

These early years educators trained attendees on ways that family-planned activities, guided by materials in the Welcome to Kindergarten bag, help children arrive better prepared for school. Based on the program’s success, we will add 14 new schools in 2010-11.

Reinventing the iGuide

In 2009-10, we reinvented the iGuide – a tool that engages parents and students in dialogue over Grade 9 pathways – as an online, interactive format. More than 2,000 unique computer locations, and presumably unique visitors, accessed the online iGuide in January and February 2010. Staff in our Leadership and Learning Department (formerly the Secondary Program Department) continued to provide support for schools as they created transition programs to meet the needs of students and parents.

What originally started as an iPhone themed booklet to promote HWDSB’s Programs of Choice and Specialist High Skills Major programs, later became an online tool that’s functionality and design garnered HWDSB’S Corporate Communications team the National School Public Relations Association’s (NSPRA) Award of Excellence.

Parents Reaching Out (PRO) Grants

In 2009-10 our parent engagement team reached out to School Councils, helping them access PRO grants by building their capacity on grant proposals. This effort brought an additional $10,000 in PRO grants, compared to the 2008-09 PRO grants at HWDSB.

Applications were prepared in the late spring of 2010, with 43 schools successful with their applications. In total, their grants totalled $37,860. Successful projects included:

  • Parent information workshops
  • Health and nutrition initiatives
  • Engaging parents of English Language Learners
  • Translation of school newsletters
  • Safer social media
  • Parent handbooks

Working with schools, encouraging them to apply, and offering advice and support seem to be the best way to maximize this opportunity for the District. Our approach used regular communication on PRO grants and provided each school with support throughout the process. We will continue to assist on the proposal writing process and raising aware about PRO grants.

Building Partnerships

HWDSB makes a conscious effort to build partnerships in the community. We do this for several reasons. First of all, research correlates family and community engagement with student achievement, skill building and pursuit of post-secondary pathways. This also helps us to better meet the needs of students in the 21st century, thanks to the rich learning opportunities community partners can support in areas such as public health, business, social services, child care, settlement services and more.

In addition, we believe strongly that schools and school boards play an integral role in their communities. Our primary aim is to improve student achievement. We know there are barriers such as poverty, abuse, racism and other factors that can lead to student disengagement. We need the support of our community to address these challenges. We have a role and a responsibility to help create healthier neighbourhoods, to encourage lifelong learning within our community and to ensure the health and well-being of children. We know that our staff can benefit from, and contribute to, partnerships that help to build a stronger community so that Hamilton can become the best place to raise a child. Read more …

Priority Schools

During 2009-10, our notable accomplishments in student, parent and community engagement included steps taken on the Priority Schools initiative. This saw 19 schools receive additional funds to open their space to community groups outside of school hours.

We believe that this subsidy for community use of schools contributes to student achievement, builds community capacity and supports free and low-cost programming in schools.

This came at the same time as our newly hired Community Engagement Coordinator provided ongoing support to existing partners, while at the same time developing new relationships to build opportunities in high-needs areas of Hamilton.

Hamilton Community Foundation Supports Students

Some of our most vulnerable students received continuing support through nutrition programs, clothing closets, and increased access to field trips, transportation, and sports equipment thanks to a $50,000 grant from Hamilton Community Foundation in October 2009.

It is important to us that all students who attend our schools, regardless of socio-economic status, have the same opportunities to achieve academic success. The Tackling Poverty Together Phase II Grant from the HCF provided support that some of our students need in order to arrive at school, ready to learn.

HWDSB, with the support of Hamilton Community Foundation, has directed close to $500,000 to the Board’s Anti-Poverty Task Force to combat the effects of poverty.

Specifically, supports included healthy meals for about 9,000 students, clothing and toiletries for students in need through our Walk-in Closets, access to a live theatrical performances for about 3,500 students and transportation on school trips for about 5,500 students.

Churchill Grad Wins Fraser Bursary

Maintaining a 90 per cent average is hard enough for most students – but imagine how discouraging it might be if you lacked the finances for college or university. Thanks to the generosity of Ronald and Gina Fraser, one deserving HWDSB graduate will attend McMaster University this fall with their tuition paid.

HWDSB’s Innovation and Partnership Office helps award the Ronald K. Fraser Foundation and Gina E. Fraser bursaries, for a student in financial need who wishes to study health sciences at McMaster. This year’s Fraser Foundation winner was Dejana Ristic.

Recipients are students who have kept a high academic standing despite financial hardship; they must also seek to attend the health sciences program at McMaster University. Other challenging circumstances are also factors. Winners receive the scholarship annually, if they maintain high academic standing, and may remain funded even as they continue to medical school or bio-medical engineering.

The Ronald K. Fraser Foundation Bursary was created by Gina Fraser to honour her late husband.

Backpacks for Kids



Our Professional Learning Organization

We want our staff to be engaged, and to hold high expectations for our students. If our staff has a sense of academic optimism, they will believe that all students can learn and will rely on each other to determine successful learning strategies for each student. As a system, it is our job to provide appropriate supports so that our staff can follow through on these high expectations and academic optimism in a realistic way.

This is why we spend time at the system level inviting staff to collaborate with one another, to learn from one another and to share expertise with each other. It is crucial to create an environment where all staff are learning together, supporting one another, taking risks and persevering in the face of challenge. Further, all staff members share leadership in school communities where academic optimism is present.

We are using the Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP) to encourage collaboration by focusing on students, engaging the curriculum and providing opportunities for teachers to support each other through assessment and instruction. We are building a system in which all of our students are learning, and all of our staff are learning together to improve student outcomes. This is also a key component of our leadership development initiative.

The goal of the TLCP is to set high expectations for students, to use assessment to guide instruction, to provide frequent and useful student feedback, and to use classroom discussion as evidence of learning. The TLCP is creating a culture where teachers learn together and change practice where necessary. The system will provide differentiated support to schools when questions and issues emerge through the TLCP process.

Staff Networking